Co-director Anton Ernst tells EW how he will bring Dean's likeness to the big screen in a Vietnam War movie.

By Joey Nolfi
November 06, 2019 at 12:24 PM EST
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly seven decades after his death, Hollywood icon James Dean will return to the big screen for a new movie role.

The East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause actor — who died in a 1955 car accident at age 24 — has been cast in a posthumous role as the secondary lead in the upcoming Vietnam-era action-drama Finding Jack. The actor’s likeness will be digitally recreated for the role of Rogan, a platoon leader, with the help of Canadian visual effects company Imagine Engine and South African VFX house MOI Worldwide.

Directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh of new production company Magic City Films will produce the film alongside Artistry Media Group’s Donald A. Barton, and Ernst tells EW the project — about an American soldier, Fletcher, who travels to Vietnam for combat, only to befriend a war dog who saves his life — is anything but a gimmick.

“The last thing anyone wants is to do something that doesn’t look authentic,” he says, promising that he’s working with some of the best visual effects artists in the world to ensure “his likeness is as real as possible.”

“We have seen [screen] tests. When he’s on screen, it looks 100 percent like James Dean. It’s exactly the way that we envisioned it,” he continues, explaining that the actor will come back to life via a mixture of technologies incorporating Dean’s likeness in pre-existing photos and footage along with new digital creations projected over stand-ins and body doubles. “It gives me a feeling of excitement, because his presence enhances the feel-good nature of the movie…. It allows that character to have more dimensions. It was a long search before we thought to go down this road. It’s not a gimmick. He’s the right guy for the role, he’s just unfortunately no longer with us.”

Mari Sova penned the script, while 10-time Oscar-nominated musician Diane Warren wrote a song for the project. The film follows a story set forth in Gareth Crocker’s novel of the same name, which also details the abandonment of over 10,000 canine units at the end of the Vietnam War.

“Fletcher loses his wife at the beginning of the movie, and then goes off to Vietnam to kill himself…. the movie is about the relationship between Fletcher and the dog, and it brings a lot of hope and love into the war,” Ernst says, going on to call Rogan a complex character who shifts from “bad guy” to “one of the good guys” by the film’s end.

“As we said to the family, we’ll do everything to be [respectful] of his legacy and ensure that it’s not perceived or treated as a gimmick,” Ernst finishes. “We’ll treat it with a seriousness that a cultural icon of his status deserves.”

In a press release, Ernst added that the film has the full support of Dean’s family, and that they view Finding Jack “as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make,” while Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, an agency that represents Dean’s family in addition to other famous, deceased personalities, said the film “opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.”

Finding Jack is set to be released worldwide on Nov. 11, 2020, with pre-production beginning on Nov. 17 of this year.

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